2005-12-01 / News

Will affordable housing make the grade in Jamestown?

By Sam Bari

Jamestown’s affordable housing crisis is nothing new. It has existed for quite some time. According to people in positions of authority on the issue, signs of relief do not appear to be in the immediate future.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer quoted directly from Jamestown’s affordable housing plan to clearly identify the town’s present position:

“The Jamestown Affordable Housing Committee indicates that due to rising housing costs, young families are essentially shut out of Jamestown’s housing market and many people who grew up in Jamestown cannot afford to live on the island as adults.

“The rising cost of housing in Jamestown threatens the intergenerational family continuity that Jamestowner’s have identified as important to preserve.

“In 2004, as much as 82 percent of households in Jamestown cannot afford to purchase the median priced home in Jamestown at today’s prices.

“The inability of Town employees to live in town poses a special problem for Jamestown because of its unique island situation. The island is only accessible by car via the Jamestown and Newport Bridges. If one or both of these bridges are closed due to bad weather or an accident, essential personnel have no way to get on the island. In the case of an emergency, critical services could not be performed.”

Additionally, Bryer said that, “According to Rhode Island Housing’s July 2004 calculations, 101 of Jamestown’s 2,428 housing units — 4.16 percent — are available for low to moderate income groups. Today, Jamestown needs 142 additional units to reach its 10 percent goal of the 243 lowto moderate-income units that are required to be in compliance with the state mandate.

“If we keep affordable housing creation consistent with Jamestown’s pace, growth, and community character, the town can only create 37 units every five years, which means they won’t reach the 10 percent goal until 2040. This reflects the normal growth in building permits (approximately 27 permits per year), which they will add to the base over time,” Bryer noted.

Keith Godena, a Jamestown Fire Department dispatcher, said:

“My daughter is a fifth-generation native Jamestowner. I work for the town of Jamestown and have been a volunteer firefighter for 23 years. My wife is a Jamestown business owner and also a volunteer firefighter for five years. Our apartment building is for sale and we cannot afford to buy a house in Jamestown due to the high cost of real estate.”

However, Ari Matusiak, acting director of Housing Works RI, offered cautious optimism. “Admittedly, there are no quick fixes. The hope for the future lies with the coalition that represents itself, Housing Works RI, he said.

“People have to identify housing as a front-burner issue that effects everyone. It cannot be ignored because it will not go away on its own. Over 100 organizations have signed onto Housing Works RI that represent, business, non-profit organizations, faith-based business, philanthropy, and government. That, in my opinion, is the group that has to be walking together to help Rhode Island solve this problem,” Matusiak continued.

“With little effort, and no major drive to force the issue, over 100 organizations have joined the coalition. That’s good news. It means that people are concerned and are willing to become proactive. And that’s what it takes, Matusiak concluded.

What is affordable housing?

As defined by the state, affordable housing is “residential housing that has a sales price or rental amount that is within the means of a household that is moderate income or less.” Generally, the accepted definition of housing affordability is that a household should spend no more than 30 percent of its income on housing costs, including rent or a mortgage payment and utilities, and be available to people earning 80 percent of median income or less.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses this definition in all of its affordable housing programs. In addition, to qualify as affordable housing under the state of Rhode Island definition, the housing must be permanently affordable and have a federal, state, or local subsidy.

Affordable housing programs target low-income households. Each year HUD calculates area median incomes by family size for Newport County.

The affordable housing proposed in the Jamestown plan targeted households which, depending on size, earn less than $43,450 to $63,000 a year.

Affordable housing plan

Jamestown is and has been concerned about the affordability of its housing. The town formed an affordable housing committee in 1989 to ensure that appropriate housing was available to all residents of Jamestown. The town wrote its plan in response to the state mandate that each community has 10 percent of its housing designated as affordable to low to moderate income residents. The plan details the need for affordable housing in Jamestown, the obstacles to developing affordable housing, the number of units needed to reach the 10 percent goal, and the strategies the town will use to achieve this end.

Local needs

Based upon meetings with public officials, various boards and commissions, the Jamestown Housing Authority, and residents of Jamestown, it has been determined that Jamestown needs affordable housing for young families and the elderly. Town employees — including police, public works, teachers, and municipal offices staff — have also been priced off the island. Additionally, a variety of service workers and marine industry workers find it increasingly difficult to live here.

The Jamestown Fire Department is extremely concerned with the future of its volunteer force, including firefighters and emergency medical technicians, in part because many of the people interested in serving cannot afford to live in Jamestown.

The Jamestown Housing Authority finds that Jamestown’s elderly residents also have a hard time finding housing they can afford. Retirees on fixed incomes are finding it difficult to maintain and pay taxes on their homes, especially as property values have risen.

The rapid escalation of housing prices has made affordable homeownership and rental housing increasingly difficult to find for many Jamestown residents. In the first six months of 2004, the median sales price for a singlefamily home in Jamestown was $410,000, an 83 percent increase since 2000. At this price, these homes are affordable to households earning a minimum of $122,500 per year. Only 18 percent of Jamestown’s households can afford today’s median house at these prices.

The most recent data shows that a two-bedroom apartment in Jamestown rents for $1,097. Twenty-six percent of Jamestown renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Eighty-two percent of households in Jamestown cannot afford to purchase a median priced home in Jamestown at today’s prices.

A typical monthly housing payment for a $474,500 house is approximately $3,826. The annual household income required to afford that house is $153,040. The average monthly rent for a twobedroom apartment in 2004 was $1,121. The annual household income required for that rent to be affordable is $44,840. Right now, 173 households in Jamestown are using more than half of their income for housing.

To review Jamestown’s approved affordable housing plan for detailed information, visit www.planning.ri.gov/housing/pla ns.htm.

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